Page images
PDF
EPUB

peare's a King Henry the fifth : but there a wife retained, and not a wife repudiated, is the cause of so much eloquence !

There had been another tract written against Milton's doctrines, which he briefly notices at the beginning of his Colasterion, entitled “ Divorce at pleasure.” Nor was he inattentive to the remark of Dr. Featley, who in the Epistle Dedicatory to his “ Dippers dipt,” published in 1645, enumerates, among “ the audacious attempts upon Church and State, a Tractate of Divorce, in which the bonds of marriage are let loose to inordinate lust, and putting away wives for many other causes besides that which our Saviour only approveth, namely, in case of adultery." Milton speaks contemptuously of the author as having written an “equivocating treatise," and as “ diving the while himself with a more deep prelatical malignance against the present State and Church-government.” Dr. Johnson and Mr. Warton are mistaken in supposing the new doctrine to have been unnoticed, or neglected : indeed the two Sonnets, which Milton wrote on the same subject, seem to discountenance the opinion. It certainly was received with ridicule, as we learn from Howel's Letter to Sir Edward Spencer. But it gave rise to a band, not perhaps very formidable, who were called Divorcers, and even Miltonists. Pagitt, in his “ De

« Act i. Scene i,
· Letters, 10th edit. p. 455.

scription of the Hereticks and Sectaries” of that period, notices the former sect with him, who wrote the Tractate of Divorce, at their head. The latter title occurs in “ & The Epilogue, shewing the Parallell in two Poems, the Return, and the Restauration. Addressed to her Highnesse the Lady Elizabeth, by C[hristopher). WCasse]. 1649.” 8vo.

“ Force can but in a Rape engage,
“ 'Tis choice must make it Marriage:
“ Hence a conveyance they contrive,
“ Which must on us their cause derive:

to whom in the Enemie bitter appriumph

Heresiography, &c. 1654, p. 129. See also Ibid. p. 77. And “ A brief description &c. of Phanatiques in generall, 1660,” p. 33.

8 This book was obligingly pointed out to me by Thomas Park, Esq; to whom the literary world is indebted for some of the sweetest Sonnets in the English language. The same gentleman directed me to the following bitter application of Milton's doctrine to himself by G. S. in “ Britain's Triumph, for her unparalleld deliverance and her joyful celebrating the Proclamation of her most gracious incomparable king Charles the second &c. 1660.” 4to. G. S. the author, after satirizing the members of the Rump Parliament, thus proceeds, p. 15.

“ But who appears here with the curtain drawn?
“ What, Milton! are you come to see the sight?
“ Oh Image-breaker! poor knave! had he sawn
“ That which the fame of made him crye out-right,

“ He'ad taken counsel of Achitophell,

“ Swung himself weary, and so gone to hell.
“ This is a sure Divorce, and the best way;
“ Seek, Sir, no further, now the trick is found,
“ To part a sullen knave from’s wife, that day
“ He doth repent his choyce; stab’d, hang'd, or drown'd,

“ Will make all sure and further good will bring,
“ The wretch will rail no more against his King."

“ This must attaque, what holds out still,
And is impregnable, the Will.
“ This must enchant our conscious hands,
“ To slumber in like guilty bands,
“ While, like the froward Miltonist,
“ We our old nuptiall knot untwist :
“ And with the hands, late faith did joyn,
“ The bill of plain Divorce now signe.”

It had been treated also as an “ " errour so gross as to need no other confutation,” than the mere mention of it. But before these remarks had been made upon a doctrine, at which the shafts of ridicule as well as censure might indeed be fairly levelled, the innovation of the author had also been opposed from the pulpit. The presbyterian clergy had not only caused him to be summoned before the House of Lords, by whom however he was quickly dismissed; but one of them, in a sermon before the Lords and Commons on a fast-day, had endeavoured in vain to excite their indignation against him. Milton notices this attack in the beginning of his Tetrachordon, and thanks the auditors for not repenting of what the preacher called their sin, the neglecting to brand

.h In “ A Glasse for the Times, &c. With a briefe Collection of the Errors of our Times, and their Authors Names. Collected by T, C. a friend to Truth, Lond. 1648.” 4to. Milton and his doctrine are noticed in p. 6. T. Forde, the dramatick writer, appears to have entertained no favourable opinion of incompatibility of temper being pretended as a reason for divorce. See his letter to T. C. apparently written at the time when Milton's treatise was first published, in the collection of his Letters, 8vo. Lond. 1660, p. 103-106.

his book with some, mark of their displeasure. This opponent, who has been hitherto unnoticed, was Herbert Palmer, B.D. a Member of the Assembly of Divines, and parliamentary Master of Queen's College, Cambridge. “ i If any,” says he to his judicial audience,“ plead conscience for the lawfulnesse of polygamy ; (or for divorce for * other causes than

i I had examined many single sermons of this period, under the hope of discovering the author who had thus publickly attacked Milton; but without success. I was indebted to a liberal friend, the late James Bindley, Esq; for pointing out, after a long research also, this forgotten discourse; of which I give the title : “ The Glasse of God's Providence towards his Faithfull Ones. Held forth in a Sermon preached to the two Houses of Parliament at Margaret's Westminster, Aug. 13, 1644. being an extraordinary day of Humiliation. Wherein is discovered the great failings that the best are liable unto, &c. The whole is applyed specially to a more carefull observation of our late Covenant, and particularly against the ungodly toleration pleaded for under pretence of Liberty of Conscience. By Herbert Palmer, B.D.” &c.

* And yet it seems, in the Confessio Fidei of the Assembly of Divines published in 1656, that Milton's doctrine had not been entirely neglected. See Cap. xxiv. “ De Conjugio et Divortio. §.6. Quamvis ea sit hominis corruptio, ut proclivis sit ad excogitandum argumenta indebitè illos, quos Deus connubio junxit, dissociandi; nihilominus tamen extra adulterium ac desertionem ita obstinatam ut cui nullo remedio nec ab ecclesia nec à magistratu civili subveniri possit, sufficiens causa nulla. esse potest conjugium dissolvendi.” Conf. Fid. 12mo. Cantab. 1656, p. 65. I have been indebted to Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, the ingenious editor of bishop Corbet's poetry, for the notice of the following stroke of satire, evidently pointed at Milton, both in respect to this and to another subject, so late as in 1670, in the Preface to Echard's Grounds and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy and Religion; “ I am not, I'll assure you, any of those occa

Christ and his Apostles mention; of which a wicked booke is abroad and uncensured, though deserving to búrnt, whose author hath been so impudent as to set his name to it, and dedicate it to yourselves,) or for liberty to marry incestuously, will you grant a toleration for all this ?" Milton now became an enemy to the Presbyterians, whom he before had favoured. Notwithstanding their opposition, however, he proceeded to illustrate his opinion, more: forcibly by paying his addresses to a young lady of great wit and beauty, the daughter of one Dr. Davis, with a design to marry her! But this desire of carrying his doctrine into practice was not countenanced by the lady. What is more remarkable, the proceeding contributed to effect a reconciliation with the discarded wife.

reco

In the mean time, Milton pursued his studies with unabating vigour; and, in 1644, at the request of his friend, Mr. Samuel' Hartlib, published his tractate, Of Education; or plan of academical institution : in which, as he expresses it, he leads his scholar from Lilly to his commencing master of arts. Mr. Warton

sional writers, that, missing preferment at the University, can presently write you their new ways of education; or, being tormented with an ill-chosen wife, set forth the Doctrine of Divorce to be truly evangelical.”

I of this remarkable person the reader may find an 'account written by himself, in Kennet's Register, 1728, p. 868. See also Mr. Warton's first edition of Milton's Smaller Poems, p. 116, &c. A Life of Hartlib is a desideratum in English biography.

« PreviousContinue »